PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1988 - JANUARY
1 January 1988
1988 is a leap year. Every leap year the month of February is extended by a day and on this special day girls are allowed to ask boys to marry them, by custom. In fact, a year is the time it takes the earth to go around the sun, only it’s not exactly 365 but 365 days and a quarter. So every four years the world has to compensate. Now why do I write all this down. If you ever read this, you will know these facts well enough.
So, here we are, in the new year. The year in which you were born, Adam, will be remembered in history just like all other years. On the international front, you will be able to say you were born in the year of the first ever East-West arms reduction treaty. The year the Gorbachevs went to Washington. With sorrow rather than pride, you will be able to say that you arrived in the year when the world became seriously interested in the Iran-Iraq conflict, as attacks on oil vessels in the Gulf escalated. It was also the year of the Iran Contra affair which Reagan survived well enough. But, otherwise, I think it was a quietish year internationally. Domestically, there is no doubt that 1987 will conjure up in everyone’s mind the great gale. Then they will remember that Thatcher gusted back into power for a third term. The King’s Cross fire and even the ferry tragedy will probably fade from the historical memory fairly quickly - there are so many tragedies.
Dammit, I’ve just remembered that I planned to collect a newspaper on your birthday(s), and now I realise I forgot. Perhaps I can steal one from a library, or write to the paper itself. I think I’ll collect ‘The Independent’ because, like you, it was born recently.
On Boxing Day, we drove up to Aldeburgh. The trip took longer than we planned because the clutch broke when we stopped at a service station. I tried mending the broken connection with help from B’s dad on the phone but, in the end, I had to call the AA. We waited about 45 minutes before a man came and fixed it. He did say, though, I should use the clutch as little as possible until I installed the correct clutch hose. This limited our flexibility in Alde. We arrived mid-afternoon and came back on Wednesday morning, three whole and two half days. It was not a very happy time, I have to report honestly. Even now, just a few days later, it remains a bit of a smudge in my memory, and, as I sit here, both mind and body feel uncomfortable, they are not interested in writing about this time.
There are many complex threads in any relationship - ours is reasonably simple, I think, compared to many others, yet still complicated enough to make analysis difficult - especially by a subjective mind.
We have finished all preparation to the front room and may now decorate. The room should be ready in a matter of weeks. Hoorah! We have bought a cot for the house - £5 from a farm in Selbourne. Daddy does so like a bargain. Daddy went for a walk around the sea wall. He walked miles and miles. On the way he saw a beach of shells, another of black sand. He saw a single black horse, wild and free (apparently) on the far bank of the Alde. He saw and heard five geese flying and squacking through the air. He saw the beautiful pattern of a thistle, and all the time he watched the river water lapping upstream with the incoming tide. The wind blew bitterly in his face, and much as he knew you couldn’t have made this journey with him, he longed to show you the beaches, the horse, the geese and the thistle.
On the evening of Mummy’s birthday we took you to your first restaurant - Aldeburgh’s Regatta. Unfortunately for you, fortunately for us, you slept all the way through. Mummy talked about her future, said she thought might try bookbinding and book selling, but I wasn’t very helpful. I said it would have been better to have developed these skills earlier; with a baby in hand she will find it impossible to get the necessary experience to make a living with such occupations. This had been my idea years ago, when you were first thought of, first discussed. I said, listen Barbara, start developing these skills so that one day you can work from home and have a child.
Because of the problems with the car, and because of the poor weather we only went on one short excursion. On the way back from buying the cot, we stopped at Iken to look at the church but there is nothing to see just a shell and some building work. A sign asked for donations to help with restoration, it was written by the 28 members of the church.
We did also stop off at Felixstowe on the way back to London, to walk along the beach in the beautiful sun for a few moments. We drank tea in an old-fashioned sea-front restaurant - a quarter of the way to being a cross between a Vienna coffee house and Chartiers in Paris.
Sometimes I joke with B that she must think I am a psychological wife batterer. She grunts. At moments when I am being particularly oppressive, and I can see that B is shrinking away from every word I am saying, I feel it becomes all the more urgent that she listens to me, then suddenly I see in her eyes a real fear that I am indeed psychologically battering her. In these moments I realise that she cannot listen to what I am saying, understand it, or in any way comprehend my logic, because she thinks I am - for want of a better word - mad. And yet I think it imperative she understand what it is I am trying to say and that her shrinking away, her tears, are often a defence from the meaning of my words sinking in.
How can her mind cope with all these insults to her being. As I go over the top - which I have been doing - so she must surely lose confidence and trust in me. Increasingly, her mind will shut off against my words. Mostly in our relationship I have been in control - words and actions have been deliberate. But, as we spend more time together because of you, so this is increasingly difficult.
And now for my major failing: the very same traits in B that I love are those that now irritate me, and I appear unable to control my impatience. It annoys me that B never instigates excursions, walks, new developments on the house, or garden, that she doesn’t provide intelligence into our conversations - new facts about a place we should visit, or about Alde or about books to read etc etc. Sometimes it seems that just everything comes from me. If I point this out, and she then makes a special effort, she can be more decisive - but this soon lapses.
And so you see, my son, there are lots of things going on between your parents all the time. In general, overall I must make a concerted effort not to nag so much, to allow time and space for B to have and implement ideas (I do already try very hard - giving her hints and direction in my quiet ways) and to be more encouraging to those ideas. I think B must make a determined effort to impact more into our time at Alde, and to do so more consistently, to think about the house and garden and not just sit back and wait for me to make decisions. But, I think we came to those conclusions some weeks ago already. Implementing them is difficult.
The evil roofers never came back to finish the roof. The under felt is letting in water and both front and back walls are getting damper. The scaffolding, in consequence, was still up when we arrived, and there was no change in the mess of rubbished battens.
Julian’s friends George and Liz never came to see us - as they promised.
In the evenings we listened to the Crime at Christmas radio plays. But, let me assure you young man, that despite the tensions we still laugh one helluva a lot together, we still embrace several times a day and hold hands when walking.
I talk to my mother, your grandmother on the telephone. I ask her if she remembers when she bought me the five year diary, and if she ever pushed me to write in it. I wonder, you see, from whence comes this anxiety if I have not written recently in here. She can remember purchasing it, and that I had asked for it, but she recalls no effort on her part to make me write. I fetch the said diary, and note that the first entries are in January 1963, whilst we were still living in Fitzjohn’s Avenue. I read her a few entries, but they are only of passing interest being purely concerned with TV programmes or food. After I put the phone down, I looked more carefully at the diary. Mostly, it is full, full of entries from 1971-1974 but there are entries from every year between 1963 and 1974 except 1969 and 1970. My diaries proper began in 1974. Very oddly, I notice that my first ever diary entry was made on 1 January 1963 so that today is the 25th anniversary of my diary writing. It’s a fair coincidence that I should be talking about such things with Mum today, I don’t think I’ve ever read her entries from that five-year diary before.
I suppose I ought to spend a day or two reading through them, and rewriting a few highlights, but I doubt I will have the patience.
This afternoon, simultaneously, I watched the last third of the magnificent RSC production of ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, taped ‘Pericles’ for listening to at a later day, and framed two lots of slides - though they still await written identifications - a tedious job.
3 January 1988
The last day of this extended break form work. I feel I have achieved nothing during this valuable free time. I have not written anything, been anywhere, met anybody, experienced anything new. And now, tomorrow, I must return to work. For the first time, I begin to look forward to a holiday - perhaps I will go skiing for a week in February or March.
Today clouds sweep across the skies revealing and hiding and revealing the sun; rain and wind coming in gusts. The air is cold, holding a touch of bitterness. In my garden early mahonia flowers unfold, a few isolated flowers on the winter jasmine emerge - both are yellow. New growth becomes visible on the honeysuckle, silvery catkins emerge on the salix. The passionflower’s greenery continues to flourish, no frosty nights having yet killed it back.
I think to take you for a walk on the Heath, but the clouds come now and grey the sky. I have spent part of the morning assessing my future. It is a bit grim I feel. I have four new year’s resolutions. No 2 is to do my yoga daily; No 3 is to set to on a biggish project, something meaty; no 4 is to read Portuguese regularly. But as I write them down I know I will not have the self-discipline. The next six months will, no doubt, slip into the slime and mud of time, just as the last six months have done.
During a short walk on the Heath - the Secret Garden looks so lovely in winter one can but wonder at the designer’s skill - I ran into someone I knew, an old friend of Annie’s. By coincidence, I had thought of him - for the first time in ages - a few days previously.
After the long Christmas break - which is not a long break in many parts of the world though the New Year celebrations must be as universal as any holiday can be - there is little news in the world. Thatcher goes to Kenya and Nigeria. She has now become our longest serving PM this century, taking over that honour from Asquith. One of her foreign office staff has caused a stink in Israel by complaining of conditions in the Palestinian camps. The US has also rapped the Israelis’ knuckles because of violent disturbances on the West Bank. The world’s favourite currency, the US dollar, takes a further beating and continues to sink.
I am uplifted today by a conversation with my managing editor Dennis Kiley. I had briefly mentioned to Philip Marvin that I was beginning to think about my contract, and he must have mentioned it immediately to the boss. I went in to see him with my little wish list, and barely had to mention anything on it - he offered me a better deal than I was prepared to ask for. A salary of £24,000, six weeks holiday, a travel budget of £3,000, a share of the profits over budget, and no worries about me working at home. It couldn’t be better - well I could have been made a staff member, but he was clearly agin this, preferring to develop a contractual arrangement with all the flexibility it entails. The contract this time will be for a year. I won’t have the personal benefits of being on staff, nor the security in case of redundancies, but I can’t think what else I lose out on. At 24k, I will be earning much the same as the other editors. Adam, this means that for the next year at least we will not have to penny pinch. Maybe Daddy can afford a more reliable car, and a proper car seat to go with it.
I prevaricate over buying a sofa for my lounge. I have seen one I like at John Lewis but oh how I balk at paying out £650 - I can’t remember paying more than £100 for a piece of furniture.
I arrive home from work around 6pm, maybe I have a quick cup of tea, maybe not. I must do my yoga on an empty stomach. Maybe I have a bath first, maybe not. I do not look forward to yoga, it is like a task, a weight on my back. I must discipline myself to do it for the broader benefits. I settle down on the floor in the lounge, on my back, and roll backward and forward. I hear my spine crack. Then I lie with my legs up in the air supported by my hands and hips, after a few seconds I let my legs fall back over my head. When I was doing these exercises regularly, my feet would touch the ground behind my head, but now after only a few days I am still too stiff. I sit up with legs stretched out straight, and move my back forward and down. The penultimate exercise is a headstand during which I try and breathe slowly and deeply. After the headstand, I do a breathing exercise, and finally I lie on the ground flat for a couple of minutes. I find the deep breathing has to continue for a while, the lungs demand it.
I do sincerely believe that these physical and breathing exercises are beneficial. Immediately afterwards I certainly feel calmer, more in control, more at peace even, but this does not last long. I think there are more permanent effects, benefits from regular practice - perhaps a more relaxed mind and body. And yet I have doubts. Yoga still smacks of quackery, is too strongly tied to religion, has not been regularly promoted by medical and scientific interest and evidence. I wonder, for example, about the consequences of the deep breathing. Does my body accustom itself to higher oxygen levels.
I call your mother. You weigh 15lb exactly, and you are just over 22 weeks old. By my calculations you are gaining about six and a half ounces a week, which sounds all right to me. Your Mum went to the clinic so you could have more injections. She rang me first to check whether I wanted you to have the whooping cough vaccine. I didn’t. I cannot conceivably weigh up the arguments one way or the other, and if I could, they would probably fall heavily on the side of Adam having the vaccine. My decision is based on instinct only, and is connected to my, apparently, groundless fear of you suffering some sort of damage from the hypoglycemia crisis after your birth. Soon you should be saying Mama and Dada, and soon you should be able to sit up all on your own. I have not seen you since Monday. I miss you in my arms. I miss your smiles.
Here at work I tackle energy questions again after the long Christmas break. I ring around oil companies to gather details on refineries; I edit the second part of Marko’s Russia profile. Receiving good copy from my correspondents raises my spirits. I talk with George Hamilton in Vienna about an Austrian profile and the possibility of an East Germany survey. I say he can write the latter, and I’ll do the travelling. Now, I’ve been offered this new contract I begin to dream of the places I will go to this year. Iceland, Ireland, Portugal, Bulgaria, Sweden and Greece. To all my regular correspondents, I send a copy of the unpublished year index which Tracye has compiled for me from the quarterly indexes. The real skill of this job is to squeeze good work out of the writers.
9 January 1988, Aldeburgh
Dear Adam, this must be the first Saturday we have spent apart. Here I am in Aldeburgh while your mother preferred to stay in London. I have come partly because nothing was holding me to London, and partly because I wanted to be here when the roofing men finished the job. The ridge tiles still have to be bedded in position, and the lead flashing needs to be placed around the chimney stack.
Actually, there is not much for me to do here, and without you and your mother, the days are much longer. What I must do is make a decision about how to decorate the front room. All is ready there, we are now delaying on choosing carpet and wallpaper. Tomorrow morning I will make the final decision in the light of early Sunday - then hopefully we can have it ready during our next visit.
So what have I done today on my own without you, without B. Not much if truth be told. I drove to Southwold, and walked around the village from green to green - originating from the 17th century when patches of land were left vacant after a great fire. I’ve always felt I lacked a sense of its geography and needed a long walk through its streets to orient myself. The harbour area, the fishing port, is divorced from the village proper, and comes as a quite a surprise when found. I had hoped to find a jumble sale but no such luck.
On the way back to A, I stopped in Leiston where I did find a jumble sale, but nothing to buy. In Leiston I bought a few vegetables and checked the advertising cards in the paper shop window. Back at the cottage, I made some tea for the roofers, and I ate a few sandwiches. After my snack (during which I listened to Sue McGregor chair ‘Any Questions’ for the second time in a row - has the conceited Jonathan Dimbleby been dispensed with?). I decided I had best make use of the light hours and set out for a longish walk. The sky, Adam, is cloudy and grey, the air full of cold wind. This time I walked down the muddy track past the pony field to the end of the High Street, and from there along the bench wall, way beyond the Martello Tower, to where it finishes. I can still feel the burning wind on my face - it seemed as though I was walking up hill constantly. By contrast, walking back the wind acted as a propellant.
All the way along, from the yacht club to the Martello Tower and beyond, one feels the sea is not happy at being restrained by the mountains of pebbles and the concrete steps. Indeed, along the section where man has quite clearly decided the sea should not penetrate further inland, the sea is at its most ferocious. Just a few yards away lies the Alde estuary. The sea is pining to be re-united with the river which runs parallel to the back of the beach for such a long way. In the end, the sea must win - persistency rules OK. The sea will break through at the weakest point, and the long beach spit will become an island eventually to be washed away. I imagine that the authorities haven’t just barricaded the sea from the Alde out of spite!, but also because the hinterland is very flat and presumably susceptible to flooding on high tides. The Martello Tower was constructed in the early 1800s against the possibility of a Napoleonic invasion.
I walk about through the High Street looking for I don’t know what - hoping perhaps I might see someone I vaguely know, or perhaps to find something to buy. In fact, I find a fireguard on sale in one of the antique shops that matches the French tapestry screen in my lounge. What to put in front of my fireplace has long been a problem.
Back here, I feel exhausted after the long walk so I put my feet up, and read ‘Silas Marner’. As darkness descends, I remember the screen (for which I didn’t have enough money - £22) and so, lazily, drive down to the High Street to purchase it. I also browse in the bookshop for a Penguin, aware that I am a few pages from the end of ‘Silas Marner’. I buy another Peter Dickinson novel, although I never finished the last one I bought.
But books are such good value. £2.50 for a paperback - that’s two drinks in a pub, that’s tea and toast for two in a cafe, that’s three trips on the underground etc.
I come back and finish off ‘Silas Marner’. I am not very happy with it, I’m afraid. It is altogether too simple a novel, too much of a fairy tale. I found myself aware of George Eliot all the way through composing the plot, tucking it up snug in bed. And the story is like a landscape only partly described. Because 16 years are dispensed with - through the mechanism of having a part one and a part two - one never gets to grips with the older characters. Part two is like an extended epilogue. Eliot doesn’t seem to care much for involving us in anybody’s else life, like she does in ‘Middlemarch’ or ‘Adam Bede’. Even ‘The Mill on the Floss’ I found more involving, more engaging in its levels and complexities. Still Eliot manages to write beautiful commentary on these people’s lives, spicing it with rich wisdom.
Oh it’s cold in this house. I tried to have a bath without allowing the water sufficient time to heat up. Oh dear, I froze, and consequently developed one of my nasty persistent headaches. It plagued me until a little while ago when I took paracetamol. I listened to the radio a while: a new soap called ‘Citizens’ which, at first tasting, seems quite realistic; and to Robert Robertson’s ghastly conversation cackle of ghostly conversation cacklers. However ghastly, I do enjoy studying the way they each manage to butt in to each other, and then how they can keep the conversation going. I made dinner then listened to the play. A very good private dick yarn. A plot that satisfied for having sufficient complexity and twists and dialogue that did not annoy.
Now my future is secure for a year - at least relatively so - I can relax a little and think about what else I should be doing. I have a lot of time. One night a week I go to navigation classes, one night a week I look after you, young man, and I watch television the equivalent of one night, so I have two nights a week, not to mention spare time at the weekends and the mornings. I feel sure I should be doing something long term, something that takes time and research - maybe even a year of spare time. I still believe (perhaps mistakenly) that this should be writing. Should it be fiction or non-fiction. If non-fiction, should it be work related or completely independent. If fiction, I do have two extremely unfinished novels scattered about my study. The rat and underground story which embroiled me for the year before I left for Brazil, and the contemporary story I started while in Brazil. Should I resurrect the rat? It is the most advanced, the most unique. I have already invested a lot of time in it. But am I wasting my time? This is the thought that plagues me. I don’t think I have it in me to write the rat as I would wish it. I am not clever enough. But should I try? What do you say Adam? Nothing else tickles me at all at the moment. I am not in the way of being inspired. To be inspired, I need lots of weekends like this alone with an uncluttered mind, so the creative parts can float untethered, so to speak, and find some attractive force to compel them in a particular direction.
Milder, less grey, calmer weather is served up this Sunday. I walk down to the sea twice. Once before breakfast to buy a paper, and once this afternoon to ‘phone you and B, and to buy some fish. The sea, like the weather, is calmer than yesterday. Tiny waves lap on the pebble shore, and I am reminded of Rio - I recall in my mind’s eye the form of the rock from which I would invariably dive into the placid waters. Each time I touch some memories, a wave of nostalgic sadness takes me over, as if the sea had suddenly swallowed me up. I am wet through with saudades.
I lunch with the one o clock news. While tucking into a green salad, I listen to the sad tale of money wasted on confidence tricksters who claimed they could get Terry Waite released. The Archbishop of Canterbury was persuaded by the con-men that they could, through their connections in Lebanon, free Waite. They were advanced £12,000 for travel expenses. That was last April, and it was not until late summer that the church realised it had been duped. Apparently, in the US it is big business, this promising to help return Middle East hostages, ransoms are even paid to the wrong people. The story sparks my memory of the Argentine journalist who tried to sell me a kidnap story - that sure made me buzz for a while. One wonders if the Archbishop was only conned for £12,000. I mean, when I got caught for cheating on the trains and was fined £500, I told most people that I’d been fined £100 - the sense of shame increases with the amount one has lost from some kinds of stupidity!
I clean up all the rubbish in the garden - bits of ivy, bits of fence, bits of sycamore tree - and fill the car before going to the dump in Leiston. Never a weekend goes by without a visit to the dump. A regular event, like going to the church perhaps. I prune back one or two of the blighted plants in the front garden, hoping frost won’t come too quick. I hammer in an old TV aerial support next to No 13’s wild rose, hoping I may be able to pin it back from our fence. The old dear there tells me about her month in Cornwall with a stepdaughter and family (who live in an isolated house surrounded by their own land). This morning, about 8, I was standing on my doorstep assessing the temperature and the weather when she opened the front door to fetch her milk. She completely ignored me, not being at all dressed or made up. But how like a rag doll she looked, with her white hair tied into a pigtail on either side of her old and wrinkled face. I wondered if she had had such a rag doll as a child.
Dearest Adam, your mother and I were not very successful with our autumn sowing of vegetables. We have a few weak-looking broad beans and three even weaker broccoli plants. We must be more dedicated for the spring sowing. Increasingly, people are being alerted to the chemicals used in fruit and vegetable production. There are strict controls on what goes in food products, and these days almost all carry labels of ingredients - a major victory for the health lobby. But how can we control or even know about the chemicals used in pest control and growth encouragement in other countries? Even in this country, we don’t know much, as consumers, about the impurity of our fresh foods. Organic foods then are to be cherished, for both flavour and healthiness.
Friday night, before leaving for Aldeburgh, I raced into town to see a cabaret organised and directed by Luke Dixon. Luke, Adam, is one my older friends, but who I now see less of for one reason or another. He works in Aberystwyth and Deal directing theatre. He’d organised the cabaret as a benefit for the Deal theatre project. I went rather reluctantly, feeling I had to support him, but not much interested in cabaret any more. The Drill Hall theatre was full - many lesbians and gays - which was appropriate since many of the cabaret acts were gay. But I left at the interval, not having enjoyed it much, and feeling myself an anachronism in a place I once knew and loved so well.
Now it’s dark, 4:30 on Sunday afternoon. I shall drive home, and stop and see you in West Hampstead.
Dearest Adam, it is a mild winter so far, barely any frost and no sign of any snow in London at least. Last week, I kept busy producing my first issue of EER of the new year. It was a good one. The night of Thursday, I listened to the World Service news at midnight and it contained two items that were in my newsletter - the one I’d just put to bed. Firstly, the nuclear waste scandal in Germany. What a scandal! One of the world’s most nuclear advanced nations caught with its pants down, corruption, bribes, suicides, resignations, companyshut downs, and all because they didn’t know what to do with their waste. It’s looking bad for nuclear all across Europe. I mull the idea of offering the FT newspaper a story outlining Europe’s nuclear retreat but hesitate, unsure whether I could write it well enough. The other major story concerned BP’s offer for Britoil as a counter measure against the Kuwaitis building up shares in BP. Energy is so much more topical than petrochemicals, every week at least there is one major energy news story in Europe, and usually several. Energy is so political it has to be interesting. Unfortunately, though, both news stories indicated developments that made my versions outdated!
I stay late at the office tonight - your mother will deposit you with Julian and Grandma and come to the West End to meet me. Together, we go to see an Agatha Christie at the Duke of York’s. Tomorrow we will head for Aldeburgh. Steer tells me the scaffolding is down, the roofwork complete. But given this spare time now what shall I write about, what shall I inform you of?
Well, during the last week or ten days, I have given an unprecedented number of dinner parties, three in total. Well, not exactly dinner parties but dinners. First, Vonny came around without Steve, you and B were present. We ate a sort of noodle vegetable egg florentine and talked about washing machines most of the evening. It is difficult to gauge how well her marriage is going. They seem to have been through a rough patch - Vonny has worked as a typist for a year, and Steve lost his last job. I think they have abandoned their plan of emigrating to New Zealand, and are knuckling down to the realities of British society. Vonny still talks of setting up a new studio - nothing has changed in eight years or so since I first met her. She wants to sell designer funeral urns to undertakers - she already does a sexy black number - but she doesn’t know how to to go about it. B said she would ask Brent’s advice. Brent being such an expert on all things connected with death. I suggested she advertise in Home & Gardens - a discreet black border box ad - funeral urns made to order from £250.
Then Saturday was a laugh. Julian and Sarah spent an evening with B & I during the week, and when Martin came back from his economics class, we discussed the turkey which he had provided, and which was still sitting in the deep freeze of J & S’s refrigerator. The idea of a weekend dinner party was duly debated and agreed - there being two visitors expected: Martin’s girlfriend and Colin. Sarah offered to stuff and prepare the turkey, and I offered to cook for eight people. But, with such familiar people it was a very laid back affair - there was masses of turkey, masses of vegetables. Foreigners, including Colin, sat at the table, while family sat at the coffee table. I invited Andraz over too, since he knows Colin quite well, and it seemed a good opportunity for him to meet Martin.
I must have spent a goodly part of Sunday picking the cold turkey to pieces. There was enough meat on the beast to feed 20 people, I swear. I think it was bigger than we thought. After four hours in a hot oven, it still hadn’t cooked properly. So, I picked the damn bird to pieces, my cuticles are still suffering, and filled one big bowl with white meat, another with lesser meat, and yet another with meat and bones for soup.
On Monday, I cooked turkey soup and turkey vol-au-vent for Philip and his mate David. I’ve been wanting to see Philip since it occurred to me just a month or two back how much of my cultural interest I owe to him - photography, theatre, even opera and Aldeburgh. The meal seemed simple enough, indeed was replete with fresh foods, but it all took several hours of preparation: carrots and leeks in the soup, small turkey pieces and button mushrooms for the mixture, broccoli and cauliflower for vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions, pepper for the salad; pineapple, melon, lemon for the fruit salad. Phil talked of his trek through Argentina and showed photos of same. David talked of domestic arrangements, and then how he might escape the fast closing net of education cuts and reform. Perhaps he could move to the private sector, but that might mean living apart from Phil. I told him of Phil’s letter to me, received in Chile. He didn’t know the story. We also talked of the relative merits of teaching as a job, and also of homosexual life. And, inevitably, of AIDS. No dinner is complete without its heated debate on AIDS!
Tuesday night, I drove across London to see Raoul, caught a glimpse of his children in bed. Jack was still jumping about in his cot, Sophie was fast asleep, her bum in the air. She looks quite like Caroline. Caroline had no time, a market research report had to be delivered within a day or two. I did wonder, though, about Caroline. I have not been asked to dinner once since their abortive and surprise visit three months ago; and this night R&I went out to eat. As it happens, the Indian restaurant we chose was very good. Ages since I had a lamb curry. What did we talk of? R talked of how much he misses his children when away from them, how he can’t bear to leave them in the morning, and rushes back to see them in the evening. If he goes away for three days, her feels guilty.
Snow falls within sight of London for the first time this winter. Cars travel down the Kilburn High Road with snow on their roofs.
Oh dear, the Agatha Christie was completely un-inspired and boringly wooden, we come away without clapping, and immediately think of something else. A waste of £16. The only entertainment I had was trying to guess which of the characters would be next to die, and this I did quite successfully not by any analysis of the plot but by deciding which actor was the next least well known. The next outing will be to see a new production of ‘Billy Budd’ at the Coliseum, it will, at worst, give us something to talk about.
We talk about the abortion bill, David Alton’s abortion bill. Is it today, they debate it in Parliament? How ridiculous that he wants to reduce the legal limit for abortion from 28 to 18 weeks. Since the 28 week law was introduced 21 years, the age at which a foetus can survive outside the womb has fallen from 28 weeks to 24 week, and there does seem some justification for reducing the limit to this level. It seems to me that all argument for a lower limit is emotional, weak argument, i.e. only made powerful by the force of the emotion behind it. As ‘The Independent’ said, David Alton’s bill is really an anti-abortion bill. Strong and powerful intellectual arguments exist to retain abortion on demand, these arguments must not be overshadowed by passionate speeches to give life to something that is not yet independent life.
Government publishes its government spending plans for the next five years. No surprises and no extra cash for the NHS. A chorus of criticism in Parliament.
Coal miners vote today for a new president of their union. Most of the pundits say Scargill will get back in which is the best thing for most people except the miners. With Scargill in place for another decade, British Coal will be able to bulldoze the industry - stripping it back to a few profitable pits and a few hardworking miners. With Walsh in place, BC would have a harder time of it, public opinion might revert back to the side of the miners and the union may again strengthen itself.
My dearest, for the first time you spent a night away from your mother - about 24 hours in fact. Dads and Ads together. After lunch I wrapped you up, put you in a carrycot and drove you to your second home in Aldershot Road. Between the nappy changes and bottle feeding we got on with our lessons. You sat at the piano and showed Cathy how well you can play, and we read a book about numbers together. You practised sitting up, which you do so well now - though you do still tend to fall backwards or sidewards eventually. You tense your arms and shoulders less these days, but your feet and ankles are always bent rigid, except, of course, when you are asleep.
I like to take you out for a walk at night because the world is all so different after lights out. So we both had to dress up, me with the a few jumpers, you with a cardigan, your anorak, and then of course the sling has to be put on. I still had not put a foot out of the front door and you were asleep. What was the point of the walk? I remembered a letter for Julian, and decided I should walk over to his flat. All the while I drank tea and ate cake at his house, you remained asleep, though it is somewhat difficult to drink tea and eat cake with a great lump of Adam attached to my chest. On the way back you did wake up, the lights of cars, shop windows, traffic signals, all fascinated you. I took you to the corner of Willesden Lane and Kilburn High Road and stood there for five minutes while you took in the busy scene.
Later on we drove over to see Judy and Rob. You were as good as gold for the early part of the evening, falling asleep in the car as I’d hoped. Late in the evening you woke, and then would not go back to sleep in the carrycot. Well, I don’t blame you. It really isn’t big enough for you. Instead I put you on my chest, where you fell asleep, despite the lights and conversation.
Judy is now at the stage of pregnancy when it becomes impossible to imagine you can get any fatter. She gives up work in February, and her baby is due at the end of March. Rob has won himself a better pay deal. I do hope the firm survives and grows, that Rob is being realistic about its future.
During the night, you were not my favourite person. You woke me at 3:30, that was after a 12:30 feed, and then again at 6:30. It was only on Sunday I had a brainwave. We should feed you decreasing amounts at night until you get used to the feel of an empty stomach.
A bright blue sky Sunday morning. Daddy records a little of ‘Billy Budd’, then we dress up and make our way to Child’s Hill, to where Grandma lives. It’s funny that my Grandma also lived in Child’s Hill. We went by bus. I thought it would be fun for you to travel on a big red bus. Daddy bought a Sunday newspaper, and read to you in the street. The people thought we were funny. Grandma gave me coffee, I gave you an orange juice. Just like all your other relations, Grandma Barbara dotes on you.
Is it yet time to talk of love for you? I record events, thoughts, ideas, impressions about you, for you, but I have not detailed any feeling for you, any emotional response to you. I wonder if all my diaries are un-emotional, cold, flat, calculated?
But then I cannot turn back a few pages in this diary to the photo of you and B in Iken without tears forming in my eyes. Away from you, I am not thinking of you constantly, or talking about my love for you to others, but when I am with you, I love to kiss you, to hold you. I am the closest I will ever get to a happiness borne of emotional fulfilment when you are on my chest, crawling or asleep, when you lift your head to find my eyes, and a huge smile bursts out on your face. Quietly, quietly you are becoming a tremendous, a most wonderful joy in my life. I guard the thought of you, like the pictures of you are guarded in this book - not secret, not open, but just there seeping your presence through these pages and through the parts of my mind they call the heart.
I receive a parcel of Pacocos from Silvio and Rogerio. The peanut halva is delicious. I ring to say thank you, and think of lying on a beach, dressed only in swimming trunks - unimaginable.
I sink my grey cells into some interesting books. ‘The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat’ by Oliver Sachs, and Paul Auster’s New York trilogy. More anon.
Thatcher is interviewed on ‘Panorama’ by David Dimbleby. It is no contest. Thatcher wins hands down. There is no denying she is good, very very good. Yet it is so hard to find any of her genius in that face.
Tuesday 26 January
I forgot to mention that during Saturday night while you were here, I had a classic anxiety dream. I had bathed you, and you were lying on a white towel on the floor, but you were no larger than an adult finger. I had rubbed you dry, but lying on the towel was a small piece of flesh not unlike a human brain, and sure enough when I looked across at you, half your brain had been rubbed off - the picture was so graphically real that I ran screaming - as loud and as desperately as anyone can scream - to the telephone shouting for Barbara. And then I woke.
BBC2’s series ‘Screen on Two’ continued on Sunday, after the previous weeks’ Ruth Rendells, with a film written by William Nicholson about AIDS - that dreaded disease, nature’s answer to 60s promiscuity. (Nicholson is the author of two other TV films of interest and originality - ‘The Vision’, recently shown, and ‘Life Story’ about the discovery of DNA.) Fine controlled performances from the happily married teachers Miranda Richardson and Liam Neeson. Well, the film shocks by presenting us with two ordinary people, living a full life along with their daughter. The husband leches a bit after his young girl students, and has a fling with one. A year later he discovers he’s HIV positive, the lives of the family are shattered, the future impossibly uncertain. The film invites one to try and imagine how one would feel if one had contracted the virus. Also on TV, I watch the Olivier drama awards. I am pleased to say I have seen the best opera, the best play, the best comedy, and both the best actress and actor - ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtesnk’, ‘Serious Money’, ‘Three men on a horse’, and Judi Dench and Michael Bryant in ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’.
Why should Ruth Rendell’s stories be so nasty? Why has she a reputation for writing evil mysteries? By comparison, Agatha Christie’s murders are like children’s bedtime tales. The two Rendells shown recently on TV were quite similar in that the male leads were honest and straightforward while the females were cunning and manipulative.
Paul K Lyons
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